Mother of Oxford school shooter found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Landmark? Yes. Precedent for all future school shootings? Probably not.

Posted by on February 6, 2024

A jury found Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of shooter in the Oxford (MI) High School school shooting case, guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the loss of lives in the attack. See https://apnews.com/article/oxford-high-school-mother-charged-01f336607a496c5f9ff0cb3a7434d073

A landmark case

This is a landmark case in being the first we can recall where a parent has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.  It appears this particular case had elements for the perfect storm to bring this particular jury to this unique outcome: A child with an unmet need for mental health services reportedly known by the parents, a parent who reportedly “gifted” him a gun, a reported disconnect between the parents and the kid, a school shooting with four lives lost, parents who fled following the incident, and apparently more that combined to bring the jury to this decision.

Let me preface my next comments by stressing that I am not an attorney and therefore I am not giving legal advice. Most importantly, by no means do I justify anything the parents did or did not do before, during, or after the attack by their son. Unlike those of us (myself included) viewing this matter from a news report length’s away, the jurors were presented firsthand the details and they deliberated based upon the judge’s instructions to reach their decision.

From the outside (having no involvement with this case), my initial impressions were that it may potentially be a long reach to rise to involuntary manslaughter. I certainly anticipated some type of charges related to child neglect or centering around recklessness. The prosecutor in the Oxford case said she filed the charges because of the “unique, egregious” facts leading up to the school shooting. And for now, it remains unclear whether this verdict will withstand likely legal appeals.

Landmark? Yes. Precedent for all future school shootings? Probably not.

That said, caution should be taken not to conflate this specific jury verdict with likely precedence for future actions on school shooting cases across the nation. I do not expect to see the charges in Oxford automatically become the norm nationwide moving forward. It may be attempted elsewhere, no doubt, but it is premature to jump to the conclusion that this will now be the standard applied everywhere in all future school shooting cases.

As a civil litigation expert witness on mass school shootings and other cases, I know firsthand that the facts and merits of each case vary.  Each case is unique with its own fact patterns. State laws and prosecutorial analysis of case viability also vary jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Demands for accountability

There are widespread calls for accountability for school shootings. Most point to the actual shooters, many point to parents, and some point to school officials seeking accountability when school shootings occur. Having watched these attacks continue for more than three decades, it is clear there are no easy answers, no quick fixes, many varying opinions, and many tentacles to this wicked societal problem.

There is much work to be done. Responsible parenting, supervision, and support for children with needs are key starting points. Please continue to fight the good fight.

Dr. Kenneth S. Trump is President of National School Safety and Security Services  

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